Buddy Holly-An Alternate History
Since everyone knows the true story of Buddy Holly and his untimely death at just 22 years old, I won’t rehash the story, but I’ve often wondered what might have happened if Buddy had lived and continued his career. It’s astonishing to contemplate the musical legacy he left after such a short life., so I wonder what he would have accomplished if he had as long to flourish as say, Paul McCartney. So, I have indulged myself and come up with a few ideas.
Once Buddy recovered from a near-fatal plane crash while on tour in 1959, he decided to reunite with the original Crickets, and they embarked upon a relentless recording schedule, putting out at least one album a year. Always the innovator, Holly realized giving fans more than one song out at a time was good business. His fan base grew to expect the albums and he gradually managed to sway record companies to his way of thinking.
However the band stepped back from touring quite a bit since life on the road was so taxing. Buddy, Jerry Allison, and Joe Mauldin jointly decided doing a single two-month tour per year was sufficient. Since they all loved performing, it fulfilled that need, and enabled them to test new material. Also, by limiting their visibility, the band inadvertently created a high demand for tickets when they eventually did hit the road. With this innovation, Buddy and the Crickets were among the first acts to step away from package tours and create a concert experience for fans. The annual tours ran for more than 30 years.
Buddy founded Prism Records and based the label in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. The new label got started with a young DJ from Lubbock named Waylon Jennings as the first signed artist. Although Jennings had a few moderate hits, Prism really began rolling when Buddy signed Roy Orbison in 1961. Orbison agreed to come aboard, but only if Buddy or producer Norman Petty agreed to handle his sessions. Although he was being eased out of ownership at Prism, Petty agreed, and found material for Orbison that skyrocketed his career into orbit.
Holly continued as an artist into the late 60’s but his sound shifted more to the country side of things as he got older. Holly was in a sales slump in 1970 when he recorded “Hello Darlin” written by Conway Twitty. The record shot to the top of the country charts and opened a new chapter in Holly’s career. He found his original audience had begun to listen to country music as they aged, so Holly extended his career to country music, while still managing to play his classic rock and pop songs as well. He was one of a very few artists who managed to crossover the rock and country charts in multiple decades.
As Prism continued to flourish, Holly decided to mine the vaults of his early recordings. In 1980 he released an album entitled “The Apartment Tapes”, which included original demos and previously unknown songs. “Well Alright”, “Peggy Sue Got Married”, and his biggest single ever “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” got huge airplay in the early 80’s on Country and Adult Contemporary radio, and introduced Holly to a brand new audience. Only 45 years-old, Buddy began seeing another frontier in entertainment open up as music videos began getting popular. Holly added a fully digital TV production facility at Prism’s Lubbock complex, and began producing some of the earliest videos for country artists.
The penultimate moment in Holly’s career came in 1985 when he and the Crickets appeared on MTV UnPlugged. Holly began his set with “Peggy Sue”, and played his pop and country hits chronologically. It was a 2 hour tour d’force that won Buddy an Emmy and three Grammy Awards. It was also the swan song for Buddy’s formal performing career as he and the Crickets announced it was their final live show together.
While Holly dropped away from performing, he continued writing and producing music well into the early 90’s. There were two more giant days for the band and Buddy still to come. In 1986 he, and the Crickets), was a charter member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Buddy and the boys accepted the awards and starred in a monumental jam afterward that included Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger.
in 1989 Buddy Holly was given the Kennedy Center Honor by President George H.W. Bush. Paul McCartney performed that evening in Washington while Buddy and Maria Elena beamed from the honoree box. Holly was given an unprecedented 10 minute ovation by the star-studded crowd, and he finally dissolved into tears as the President put his arm around his shoulder and whispered in his ear.
After that, Buddy went into self-imposed retirement. He was an avid Texas Tech fan and went to as many games as possible. He even learned to fly at age 65. He claimed he’d always wanted to, and had indeed taken a few lessons prior to his earlier crash, but had never gone back to it until his retirement. Today, Buddy lives quietly in Texas, and occasionally turns up at small Austin clubs to play with friends who appear.